The National Trust of Australia has flagged concerns about the City of Sydney’s proposed Oxford Street development.

The peak body for community-based heritage conservation warned that potential changes to building heights, floor space ratios and infill developments would “drastically alter the distinctive character of Oxford Street and irreversibly damage the heritage” of the precinct.

This comes as Toga and Ashe Morgan lodged a $7.5 million development application earlier this month with the City of Sydney, covering three blocks of Oxford Street. The application included “preparatory early demolition works to heritage buildings… removal of shopfronts and windows and erection of scaffolding around each building to allow cataloguing of all windows and inspections of existing bricks and sandstone.”

On Public Exhibition Until February 8

Image: Statement of Environmental Effects

This stage of development will be on public exhibition until February 8, when it will be presented to the City’s Local Planning Panel for determination. The application’s heritage impact statement concluded that “the proposed works are in keeping with the relevant objectives, provisions, and policies related to the heritage management of the site.”

According to the development application, the works proposed include the removal of non-original and non-significant ceiling, wall and floor linings, as well as existing, non-significant shopfronts and windows. The National Trust believes that potential changes to Oxford Street would cause a “major heritage impact” that would not address the economic downturn that the precinct has experienced in recent years.

According to the City of Sydney’s proposed Oxford Street Cultural and Creative Precinct plan, the City of Sydney will allow property developers, such as Toga and Ashe Morgan, to increase floor space and building height along Oxford Street if they dedicate at least 10% to cultural and creative purposes.

However, according to the City of Sydney’s website, these planning controls are still under review and have not yet been approved.

Proposed Works Cloud the Future of the Mardi Gras Parade

The National Trust has suggested alternate methods to attract patronage back to Oxford Street. It recommended the installation of outdoor dining, public lights and artworks to help reinvigorate the area.

The establishment of outdoor dining and amenities would be consistent with measures taken by Lord Mayor Clover Moore and the City during the COVID-19 pandemic. The city commissioned pop-up cycleways in the inner-city, a wider pedestrian zone on George Street, and a new $4 million grant for its creative and cultural precinct following the success of a six-week laneway festival in the precinct between Wynyard and Town Hall. These offered ventilated, socially distanced outcomes to encourage people to be confident about returning to the city and have all been largely successful.

Proposed works to Oxford Street have also clouded the future of the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade. This annual event is expected to return following interruptions in the past two years due to the pandemic.

When asked specifically how these works would impact the future of Mardi Gras on Oxford Street, a City of Sydney spokesperson said that “activity will be limited to works to the existing heritage buildings’ hazardous material removal, demolition, structural reinforcing, the removal of redundant services and the cataloguing of heritage items through the buildings.” The spokesperson added that “pedestrian access will be maintained around these buildings, with construction zones largely off Oxford Street.”

The community has echoed the National Trust’s concerns for the site, with increased building heights, additional storeys on existing heritage buildings and changes to planning controls being the principal concerns for the future of Oxford Street.

Submissions are open till February 8 and can be made to [email protected]

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